What is SEM: A Beginners Guide

If your organization is doing business online, then you have probably heard about SEM, which is short for Search Engine Marketing.

Since most customers start their search online, you must maintain good search visibility for your businesses. SEM is one of the strategies to help you achieve that. It encompasses using paid strategies to boost the search visibility of your business.


Companies use it to appear in relevant search results on search engine result pages (SERPs). To do it, they have to target keywords and keyword phrases relevant to their target customers. When their potential customers enter those specific keywords in a search engine, they see the paid ad on the top of the 1st SERP.

SEM has been around for over a decade now, and marketers refer to it using several interchangeable terms, such as paid search ads, paid advertising, and pay-per-click advertising (PPC). Don’t get confused if you run into any of these terms; they are simply synonyms for SEM.

To help you out tackle one of the most powerful online marketing strategies, we’ve put together an SEM guide for beginners. You’ll find out what SEM is used for, the difference between SEM and SEO, and more.

Differences Between SEO & SEM

While SEO and SEM are the main pillars of a successful online marketing strategy, they are two completely different things. As we stated earlier, SEM stands for search engine marketing, and SEO stands for search engine optimization.

The only thing that brings SEO and SEM together is the concept of keywords. Keywords are used to fuel both SEM and SEO strategies.

SEM refers to the process of business using paid ads on the search engine platform to appear on the first page of SERPs. Search engine marketing leverages paid search strategies to improve the organization’s online visibility, services, and products. Simply put, companies have to pay Google to display their ads on the search result pages.


Search engine optimization doesn’t revolve around paid search strategies. SEO encompasses various types of strategies that are all free. As a result, businesses can also get on the 1st page of SERPs, but without paying Google or any other online advertising platform.


Now, let’s take a look at differences. SEM uses paid ads to get you on the top of the first page of SERPs. On the other hand, SEO is based on content relevant to your business and target customers. The relevant content is what gets an organization a free spot on SERPs.

The key difference is the time required to see the result of SEO and SEM efforts. SEM delivers instant results. As soon as you launch your SEM campaign, the ads will appear in the relevant searches. SEO is a long-term strategy. It takes several months and sometimes even longer to reap the benefits of a well-planned SEO strategy.

Although SEM and SEO are different, they are both vital for the success of an online marketing strategy. SEO can help you boost your website traffic and generate new leads. SEM has an impact on the bottom of the funnel. It can help you boost conversion rates and capture more sales.

SEM Fundamentals

Now that you understand what SEM is and what makes it different from SEO, you are ready to learn about SEM fundamentals. The following information will help you to understand what is SEM search engine marketing and how it works.


When you comb through the resources about SEM, you’ll probably stumble upon the phrase “SEM platform.” It typically refers to a search engine platform where you can place search ads. The platform will display your ads every time a user enters a relevant keyword or keyword phrase.

There are two commonly used SEM platforms – Google, owned and operated by Google Inc. and Bing, owned and operated by Microsoft.


Google is the most popular search engine platform, and it is quite logical to find the Google Ads platform to be the most popular one. With over 3.5 billion searches per day, Google provides you with a unique opportunity to display your ads in front of the largest user base online. It even has a dedicated tool to help you streamline your SEM campaigns – Google AdWords.


A keyword is a term that you will often encounter if you engage with online marketing. In the SEM frame of reference, keywords are the specific terms or phrases that you use in your SEM campaigns. All the search queries on a platform containing keywords you’ve targeted will generate SERPs with your paid ads on the top of the page.

Let’s say you are in the email marketing niche and want to advertise your new email marketing platform. If you target the term “email marketing platform,” your ad will show in the search results when a person searches for that phrase.

You have complete control when it comes to choosing and avoiding specific keywords. There are four types of keywords. You can use only one, all of them, or any combination in your campaigns to get the best results. Here are the keyword types that are available to you:


Using specific keywords is just one way to tell the search platform Lithuania Phone Number List when to display your paid ads. Search platforms offer refined targeting that you can use to include additional filters and display ads to the most relevant users. Here are a few filters that you can use in your SEM campaigns:

  • Geo-location targeting – use ZIP codes or geographic location as a filter to display your ads only to people living in specific areas.


  • Ad schedule targeting – easily manage your ad schedule, set the days of the week, and the time of the day for the platform to display your ads.


  • Demographic targeting – use age and gender as filters to further refine your targeting strategy and display your ads to specific demographic categories.


  • Device targeting – display your ads only to users using desktops, tablets, or smartphones, or deliver a unique ad copy to each user group.


Account Structure

Certain rules apply to the SEM campaign organization. Account structure refers to a specific way all your SEM campaigns are organized. Every SEM campaign follows the same account structure. It is within the specific categories that you can set up the targeting and keywords. Account structure encompasses campaigns, Ad Groups, and Keywords and Ads.

Ad Copies

Ad copy is what a platform that serves users who use targeted keywords. If you take a look at search result pages, you will notice that often top results have that “Ad” tag.


In most cases, the ads look entirely the same as organic search results. However, they contain more information. For instance, Google even supports product carousels as an ad format for businesses interested in advertising single products.

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